Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Sunny and Slightly Eventful Ride

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Rockets flaring purple from the green banks
Butterflies tasting the delights of spring
Grassy-sweet odor of freshly-mown hay

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A cloudless day, with a mild west wind, and temperatures in the balmy 70s. Perfect weather for relaxing on the lawn, reading a good book, and soaking up the sun. Oh, and taking a bike ride.

I decide today to ride a circuit that includes the only serious hill in our area. I spend the first few miles pondering whether to ride the route clockwise or anti-clockwise; to approach the hill from the south or the north. From the south, the climb is long and steady. From the north, it's nasty, brutish and short. (Same hill - just much steeper on one side than the other. MUCH steeper.)

I choose the north approach - partly because I've never climbed from that side before, and partly because this will get the hill out of the way early. Once it's behind me, the toils of the business will be over and the sweets begun (to borrow a phrase from Miss Austen).

Spring has settled in. The trees' leafy coats are well-established; fields are lush and green; and flowers continue to appear earlier than usual. Butterflies are everywhere, dancing from flower to flower with giddy joy.

Dame's Rocket is flaming from nearly all the ditches and hedgerows. This flower usually blooms in early June, but thanks to March's heat wave we're enjoying it now.

This lovely orchid colour is the most common shade.

On my way to The Hill (for so I denominate it in my mind), I notice that the end of my handlebar tape has popped loose from its moorings. I stop on a bridge to fix it, which involves unwinding the two layers of sticky tape that secure the end, re-winding the handlebar tape, and re-applying the sticky tape.

Repairs done, I am free to enjoy the view. On one side, a marshy stream wiggles away between grassy banks.

 On the other, a very typical farm scene.

Just up the road, I spy elderflower in bloom (at least I think it's elderflower). The sun is so bright I can't get a very good picture - the reflections are too strong.

Next to the elder grows a row of rather lacy-looking, decorative trees.

I reach The Hill and begin my climb. The first half is bearable (thank goodness for granny gears) and the second half dreadful. My bike is handling sluggishly, I'm gasping for air like a fish out of water, and it feels as though I'm trying to climb a wall of molasses. What's wrong with me? Am I really in that poor of a condition?

I (finally) reach the top and coast, red-faced and heart pounding, down the other side. Strange, but my bike still feels sluggish and unresponsive. I look down to find that my front tire is flat. (That explains the molasses feeling of the climb.)

I've been really lucky when it comes to flat tires - in the sense that I hardly ever get them. The very rare punctures I do pick up are slow, polite leaks that only reveal themselves after I get home - where Mr. M is happy to do whatever patching or replacing may be necessary. I haven't had to change a flat on the road since we lived in California - which is over 20 years ago now.

That's about to change. (Tire pun!) I look around for a handy spot to work; all the verges are covered in tall grass. I'd rather not become a tick magnet, so I walk the bike a few hundred yards down the road until I reach a mown area.

Then it's off with the front wheel (the spare tire has been removed from my underseat bag and is lying on the grass ready to go)...

...and off with the tire. My vintage bike has the original wheels, which are built for sew-up tires. A sew-up tire is tubular, with the innertube sewn inside - hence the name "sew-up". The tire is glued to the rim, so removing it involves a careful peeling away all around the rim.

At least the view is nice...

Peeling done, the valve stem of the replacement tire is inserted into its hole, and the spare is rolled onto the rim.

The spare is an old tire of mine which has been repaired and also injected with tire slime - a liquid sealant which helps heal punctures as they occur. A bit of the green slime bubbles out of the valve as I work.

Because the spare has been previously used, it goes on pretty easily. (A brand new tire would take a lot of stretching to get on the rim.) Before long it's ready to be pumped up with my vintage pump - no compressed air for Mrs. M.

Back goes the wheel, and Iris is ready to roll again. (But I keep a nervous eye on her front tire from here on in, and make frequent stops to check that it's holding air.)

The wild geraniums are blooming already - they're early too, and more profuse than I've ever seen them. They twinkle from shady stretches of roadside like so many pale pink stars.

After snapping the wild geranium I try for an underneath shot of a dandelion gone to seed, but the camera focuses on the tree canopy instead. (I like the picture anyway.)

Everywhere I go the roadsides are lined with Dame's Rocket. It's so beautiful I can't resist taking more photos.

As you can see, it comes in more than one shade of  pink. Here it is growing with the wild geranium:

I make another stop to check my front tire. I know it's centered properly, but it feels wrong somehow - and there's a sort of smush-smush-smush as I ride which baffles me. If I didn't know better I'd think it had some sort of flat spot (which is impossible).

My stopping place is a bridge over a marsh, and in the distance I see a very strange-looking bird. (It turns out to be a Canada goose with its head tucked under a wing.)

Iris blends in rather well with the green and purple colour scheme here.

A few miles on, we pass a tree-covered knoll. A month ago these trees would have been bare - or barely blossoming - and now they're heavy with leaf.

This faraway golden field reminds me of a very large bunker on an even larger golf course.

I pass a tiny, uninhabited cabin with a derelict barn behind it. Strange to think that someone lived here once and fit all their possessions into this one room.

These horses are old friends - for several years they've been in this pasture every time I ride past. (I've often wondered who has the paler legs - me or the white horse? It's hard to say.)

Shadow shot.

After a few more stops to try and figure out what's wrong with the front wheel, I give up and decide it's time to head home. Less than 10 miles to go, and I'll be very glad to get there. I have horrible - and baseless - visions of my front wheel somehow falling off as I ride, tumbling me into the path of an oncoming vehicle which will mangle me horridly, or, worse, kill me. (Who will post my pictures if I die in a crash?)

To distract myself from these thoughts of woe, I snap a picture of this barn.

And then I pass a lovely rolling hay-field. A glorious tree stands in an island of tall grass, surrounded by swathes of freshly-mown hay. The farmer must love this tree, to mow so carefully around it.

Another view of the protected tree and the swooping rows of hay. (I feel that the farmer is a kindred spirit.)

Soon I reach the main highway. Only 6 miles to go on that questionable front tire, and we'll be home and safe.

When I reach home and Mr. M has had a chance to look at the tire, he tells me that the slime has puddled inside, forming a mass and causing the tire to bulge a bit in one spot - which accounts perfectly for the sense of off-centeredness and the smush-smush I was hearing. (I'm glad it wasn't anything I did.)

A beautiful day and a decent ride, though marred by mechanical worries. But all's well that ends well.

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  1. What a lovely ride. Thanks so much for taking us with you. The wild flowers and the smell of hay....yes I could smell it.....I almost feel as if I was riding on your front handlebars...that could also account for the job going up the hill!! Cycling is not a good idea here as the roads are so fast and dangerous and the country lanes very narrow with high hedges and a lot of bends. On second thoughts I think I'll just climb back on your handlebars!! Joan

  2. Those wild flowers are so pretty, and not like anything we see here, more's the pity.

    Impressed that you tackled that road side puncture so effectively :D

  3. Great photos on the ride. Sorry that you had tire troubles along the way. Glad you made it home safely.

  4. Brava on so many counts! Tackling the hill, pressing on even though it seemed so difficult, finding out you did it WITH A FLAT TIRE, and then having the knowhow to fix the flat. And, all the while, keeping us in mind with snapshots and running commentary. Brilliant, woman!

  5. There is something about the 'typical farm scene' photo that just makes me feel good. Not sure what it is, but you have 'the knack'. :) I was very glad to see the 'shadow' picture. MUST have the shadow picture. And aren't you the dab hand at fixing the bike!?

  6. Those dame's rocket are stunning, they look a little like hydrangea petals almost, we don't have anything like that here.

    Your bike rides are lovely, this one was edge of the seat stuff for me, wondering if you were going to get another puncture, glad you arrived back with Iris intact....your tyre changing skills are exceptional, clever you!

  7. Oh my goodness, Sue! You had me riveted to the screen. This post had it all; even a reference to Miss Austen! I was chuckling at your account of lumbering up the hill and wondering how unfit you were and then I was in awe; you actually ride a bike (not just to the local boulangerie and back nibbling a baguette and whistling) AND you know how to change a tyre.

    I take my hat off to you lady. Of course I must simply add how much I enjoyed your descriptions of the May vegetation met along the way.


  8. Oh goodness, a ride up a steep hill on a flat tire? I think i would have turned around and gone home! I really need to get a portable pump and a key for getting the tire off the wheel. For now, I just carry a spare tube and hope to depend on the kindness of strangers for the rest. Gorgeous ride!

  9. I want to take you along on my rides so you can change my tires if they go flat! And I can take your picture while you do it!!!

    Just teasing. I'm actually giggling inside because I had the very same mechanical (minus the handlebar tape) on my last ride, but I was just half a block from home. Good thing, too, because I'm not as adept as you!!!

    Your flower photos make me feel as if I've tripped right into the center of summer!


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